It’s hard to tear yourself away from South Beach, especially the weather is nice and the beach is calling. But I found that some of the city’s most exciting art developments are happening on the other side of Biscayne Bay, in the Design District and gritty Wynwood, Miami’s latest hot neighborhood.
When my cab dropped me off on NW 23rd Street, I thought I was in the wrong place. No glossy Miami-style buildings here – just warehouse buildings, vacant lots surrounded by barbed wire and sad-looking palm trees here and there. Then I turned the corner onto NW 2nd Avenue, and colorful Wynwood came into view.
Wynwood is the center of Miami’s street graffiti scene, and many of the buildings sport murals painted by artists known only by their tags. Although a far cry from the sleek set-ups at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the galleries here were embracing the Art Basel spirit in their own fresh way. This artist turned a moving van into a roving gallery that he parked on the street.
A group of graffiti artists were out and working, painting an immense wall with colorful designs. Food trucks serving up barbecue were parked along NW 2nd Avenue, making the whole area smell like a giant urban picnic.
The food carts were needed, because the few restaurants that Wynwood has were packed. I stopped by the Wynwood Kitchen, a restaurant that adjoins the new Wynwood Walls graffiti art park. Little did I know that the restaurant, which featured a new installation by famed street artist Shepard Fairey (the man famous for his Obama Hope screenprint), was having its grand opening that day. Needless to say, I didn’t get a table.
I loved the energy of the Wynwood area. Vibrant, urban and political, it blew away my preconceived notions of Miami being merely a place of decadent scenesters. Next time I visit, I’m going to try to go on of the Second Saturday Art Walks so I can learn more about the street artists behind the murals.
From Wynwood, I took a cab over to the Design District. If Wynwood is a brash young kid and South Beach is a sexy swinging socialite, then the Design District is a sophisticated professional with money to burn – who still has the heart of a hipster.
The Design District has everything that you might expect in a city arts district. There’s an established gallery scene, showing installations of modern artists such as Robert Indiana, and plenty of trendy restaurants. It’s a shopper’s dream, mostly focusing on furniture and interior design, although high-end retailers such as Christian Louboutin are starting to move in. There’s even a magnet high school focused on design and architecture, the type of institution that will solidify Miami’s rep as a city that nurtures the artistic lifestyle.
Amid the consumerism of the fancy boutiques, the Rainbow City installation by FriendsWithYou came as a delightful surprise. The exhibit consisted of 40 brightly colored balloons and moonwalks meant to address the “potency of interaction, ritual and play.”
I’m not sure that I always buy those type of descriptions. Yet you couldn’t help but smile when you walked through the installation. Families were having picnics, groups of friends were spread out on blankets enjoying the art, and children were batting some of the balloons back and forth like a giant Earth Ball. It did make you feel like a kid.
What did we all do before food truck? I love how quickly this trend has spread around the country. Ms Cheezious, a mobile dispenser of grilled cheese sandwiches, provided the perfect snack for a Rainbow City outing.
To me, street exhibitions and public works such as Rainbow City are equally as effective as viewing the expensive works at the Art Basel Convention Center. It helped me come away from Art Basel believing that the show is one of the most accessible cultural events around, with fabulous experiences for everyone, no matter what your knowledge and taste in art might be. I can’t wait to go back.
Thanks to Tempo Miami, a Rock Resort, which sponsored my trip to Miami.